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A Chinese Firedrill

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A surprising collection of tunes from veteran bass player Joey Vera on his A Chinese Firedrill project.

7 songs all with different musical foundations, tied together by strong atmopsheres and songs interlocking; as well as some subtle details in the soundscape repeated throughout.

Mainly experimental in style, but the heavy use of synths as well as the laid-back vocal style here gives this release strong similarities to OSI - one of numerous bands and projects Joey Vera has bean involved in. Recommended to fans of that band, especially those that liked their second release Free.

Report this review (#169518)
Posted Friday, May 2, 2008 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This was quite a surprise.

I really wasn't expecting that much of this side project. I'm not much into side-projects. I've always felt that musicians tend to give their best to their main bands, and that side-projects are usually just ego- boosting attempts that usually end up being flat as each individual artist is not as good as the combination of a few of them forming a music group.

I was expecting that even more in the case of Joey Vera, a great bass player but never an outstanding member in his excellent band, FATES WARNING, where guitarist Jim Matheos and drummer Mark Zonder are the ones that generally steal the spotlight.

But in the case of A CHINESE FIREDRILL, Vera's most recent project, the complete opposite is true. Here we have an album of pure originality, great innovation, and full of energy and passion. This doesn't feel like a side-project. This feels as Vera's real thing. He's the absolute star as he plays all the instruments but one (the drums) and sings in "Circles", the first album under this name. Most importantly, he is the only songwriter, and thus he's been able to show us what a terrific, underrated musician we've always have hidden behind his bands' biggest names.

What we have here is an excellent collection of songs of the most varied style and mood. If we were to describe what this music sounds like, we would have to begin with TOOL, even though that influence is very important mostly in the first song, with its very distinctive riff. Another immediate influence is MUSE, especially in the calmer moments. PINK FLOYD's shadow permeates the whole album, as does PORCUPINE TREE's, for this is a very, very atmospheric, psychedelic record. One can hear a little, just a little of Vera's band FATES WARNING in the music, which goes from metal to space-rock to alt-rock with ease. The experimental bits owe a little to OSI, a side-project of his band mate Jim Matheos. But through all of these different mentors, Vera manages to create a thing that is completely his own and that sounds unique.

Talking about the performances, Vera shines in almost every instrument. He has good skills in the guitar, making it produce effects and notes of great beauty and atmospheric effect; he is a capable keyboardist, doing just what he needs to do to add to the magic; of course, he absolutely conquers when he's playing the bass, so there's little to question about that. But is his singing which is a good surprise. No, he's not the next Sinatra, but his voice, helped by effects that make it sound a little bit like Arjen Lucassen's one in any AYREON album, is sedative, narcotic, weirdly pacifying. He can also rock. At his side and rounding up a perfect team, Greg Studgio on drums delivers a magnificent performance, full of incredible creativity, amazing chops and fills, and tight, precise rhythm.

A word about the songs. From the first, "Circles", that has a very strong TOOL influence, to the last, "Rock Paper Scissors", the longest and most ambient of the record, we never feel like there's one wasted minute in this recording. Even though all of the tracks are great, my two favorites would be "Insane" and "Siucra", the first with a fantastic little figure which could very easily be an alt-pop- rock hit if it had any chance at airplay, the latter with an infectious chorus and a nostalgic, questioning riff and melody.

An absolute success. I really confess I didn't have much expectatives coming from Circles but, lucky me, I was incredibly wrong. A must for fans of good space-rock, space-psychedelic-metal, alt-indie- related prog, and all rock music fans in general.

Report this review (#171936)
Posted Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars Joey Vera known mostly for his bass playing with FATES WARNING goes solo. He wrote and composed all the songs, and plays all the instruments except for drums and percussion. There is some really good heavy sections on this record which is no surprise considering Joey has played with ARMOURED SAINT, ANTHRAX and OSI. He has played as well with CHROMA KEY and that side of the music is very prominant as well. I would describe this album as a blend of PORCUPINE TREE and PHIDEAUX. Vera's vocals remind me of Phideaux Xavier's a lot, and the music really has a PT flavour. What we get really is a collection of excellent songs.

"Circles" is a song that would do well on FM radio. It has such a catchy chorus that it's infectious. Some chunky bass in the atmospheric intro before some killer heaviness arrives quickly. It eases off when the vocals come in. This contrast continues. Again I love the chorus. More atmosphere 3 minutes in. Great track. "Automatic Fantasy" eventually gets going as percussion, acoustic guitar then vocals come in. Very PORCUPINE TREE-like 2 1/2 minutes in. Awesome passage. Heavy 3 minutes in then back to the PT flavour. Piano 4 minutes in. Themes are repeated. "Insane" is the song where Joey brings Phideaux to my mind. Piano, percussion and Wilson-like guitar lead the way instrumentally. Full sound before 1 1/2 minutes. Contrast continues.

"Siucra" opens with wind-like sounds before a pleasant melody takes over. Vocals 1 1/2 minutes in. This is such an uplifting, feel good song. Very moving for me and a favourite along with the opening track. "Never Say Never" is heavy and raw at times. A Phideaux flavour is prominant once again before 2 minutes. Straight up metal 4 minutes in. "Grass And Stone (Ethereal)" opens with lots of atmosphere. Reserved vocals in this dark intro. Acoustic guitar is strummed as the mood changes. It gets more passionate 2 1/2 minutes in. Very atmospheric tune. The drumming in this one is outstanding. "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is the final and longest track. Spacey early as vocals join in. The guitar is excellent as he sings the title over and over. Quite powerful 4 minutes in. Very atmospheric 6 minutes in before heaviness returns a minute later. I don't like the chorus at all here.

Joey has done himself very proud with this release. There are sections that i'm not big on but overall a really good release. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#180149)
Posted Tuesday, August 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Wow! I had seen this album but was reluctant. I didn't want a Fates Warning/OSI hybrid dose of music as I don't get real excited about either, though I own all released by these bands. What I did get was one of the heaviest atmosperic albums I have heard.

This has more of the feeling of Chroma Key, but with alot more muscle. It has the dreamy atmospheres of Porcupine Tree but with stronger melody. A very thick bass driven foundation, which is no suprise given Vera's weapon of choice.

Heavy bass, electric guitars, piano, synths, organ, electric piano, more synths, looping and voice overs, more synths and some heavy guitars, melodically strong vocals all make for an excellent escape. Highly Recommended!!!!!

Report this review (#213929)
Posted Monday, May 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars Joey Vera's pedigree is without reproach. Come on, Armored Saint and Fates Warning! However, I guess to be in touch with what's going on in the hard rock/heavy metal community as it exists today, I'm guessing he felt he had to put a "modern" spin on his solo work to stay relevant. While it's very impressive that he performed all instruments here aside from drums, the songwriting is what I have a problem with. Aside from the title track, which has some ferocious rhythm guitar work and just flat-out rocks, the rest of this album seems lost in that hang on to the old/grab on to the new persona that mars so many otherwise promising new releases. Taken as a whole, it was a disappointing and somewhat tiresome listening experience. There exists a wasteland between old school, established prog-metal song structure and today's pioneers that are taking yesteryears foundations to new heights, and it is in that no-mans land that this record falls...........floundering about without an identity.
Report this review (#275792)
Posted Thursday, April 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A Chinese Firedrill is a project assembled and put together by bass player Joey Vera. He has written all the tunes, and play most instruments, with just drums and "DJ scratching" handled by others. Which makes this album more of a solo release than a band project as such. Previous to this release Vera was best known as a band member, with his involvement in Armored Saint, Fates Warning and OSI arguably being the most high profiled. The album "Circles" was issued by Bridge Records in 2006, and re-released in 2007 by ProgRock Records when Joey Vera signed for them.

Musically this release will be seen as an odd one by many listeners. Vera's background from metal bands shines through in the guitarwork on many tracks, while his involvement with bands like Chroma Key and OSI are easily detected by the use of synths, as well as ambient and industrial sounding elements in the musical tapestry. But the most striking feature of "Circles" is variation, as all songs explore more or less different musical styles.

"Circles" moves between hard rock and heavy metal in style, with some nice synth work throughout, "Automatic Fantasy" explores a more folk-rock influenced musical landscape, spiced with at times extensive synths and a hard rock influenced chorus. The more or less aptly named tune "Insane" mixes mellow psychedelic influenced moods with a grandiose prog metal chorus, fusing both styles at the end, whereas "Siúcra" is more of a symphonic rock and neo-prog musical journey. "Never Say Never" is a trip into prog metal territories with space rock elements included, and the following track "Grass and Stone (Ethereal)" is more of a haunting metal ballad with symphonic and psychedelic tendencies. "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is the final track, mixing electronic and ambient sounds with hard rock and metal in a song with numerous changes in style, pace and sound.

Vera is a talented performer and producer, and "Circles" proves that he's a very talented songwriter too. All tunes are coherent, even when exploring multitudes of styles. The songs move effortless between the different styles explored, and each individual song as well as the album as a whole has a distinct, individual sound. Overall this comes across as a very strong release - but perhaps with a slightly limited appeal.

Personally I'd recommend this album to people into OSI in general, and fans of their second release Free in particular, but fans of slightly experimental progressive rock and metal might also find this album intriguing

Report this review (#375829)
Posted Friday, January 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Criminally Underrated Artist.

This is an outrage. Flying under the radar like that, when pop stars make millions barely knowing how to play piano and/ or guitar (ahem Bieber) when we have fantastic one-man bands like Ayreon, OSI or Lunatic Soul. For those who like a Jack-of-All-Trades that actually know his stuff, you can add now A Chinese Firedrill, the brain child of Mr.Vera.

You can anticipate a blend of 311 (absolutely marvelous reggae-metal band), Linkin Park and OSI (absolutely marvelous, period). What a great bland of technology and acoustic prowness! Joey is creating (again) a great mood of espionnage music with more mellow moments than OSI though. Getting close to the pop/rock sideline, this album is satisfying hooks with finger snapping moments.

It's a real keeper for those who wants to get away from the Flower Kings pattern of 75 minutes albums with 20 minutes long epics that never ends. Joey is good with the bass, very good I might add. Expect thick, juicy, hearty bass licks with surprisingly good vocals that could be FM material easily.

My discovery of the year, although 6 years too late! A lost gem that purchasing should be your priority with feeding your children, going to work, taking daily showers and avoiding mischief in general.

Report this review (#859256)
Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2012 | Review Permalink

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